- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2001

The prom is an event of profound excitement for many high school students. It also can be a night of red-alert status for parents, who wonder if the big night will turn into the big bust for their children.

In some ways, parents have good reason to be worried, says Cynthia Moore, a psychologist at Meade Senior High School in Anne Arundel County and a member of the National Association of School Psychologists.

"The prom is a time when students can test out their own values, because they will have to make a number of decisions independent of their parents," she says.

"First, how much money they will spend on their event. The type of date is also somewhat of a value judgment. And should there be sexual behavior? Involvement with drugs or alcohol? For some students, it is the first time to try out new behaviors."

In addition, says Ms. Moore, as the prom these days "is more of a group dating thing because of the expense, the peer pressure is greater." To top it off, she says, many parents choose prom night to relax curfew restrictions.

Although drug and alcohol consumption can be controlled during the actual event, what happens after the prom doors are closed and locked? Many schools, in accordance with parent-teacher associations, are leaving nothing to chance.

Prom-goers from Bowie High School in Prince George´s County, for example, will enjoy an after-prom event from 1 to 4 a.m. at the ESPN Zone in Northwest, near the site of their dance. Guests will be treated to games, snacks and a disc jockey spinning CDs, says Byran McReynolds, president of the school´s Parent, Teacher and Student Association.

That´s not all. Following the after-prom party, interested partiers will be fed breakfast back at the campus, courtesy of a local McDonald´s franchiser.

"The function of the after-prom is to have a drug- and alcohol-free party atmosphere where the kids can have a good time," Mr. McReynolds says.

"I think that most parents would tell you, 'Not my kid,´ but if a kid is going to a party, you don´t know who is chaperoning and who is going to be there. It´s not just enough to tell kids not to drink or use drugs you have to provide an alternative, and I think this does it."

Students from Madison High School in Vienna are invited to an elaborate PTSA-sponsored post-prom activity at a Tysons Corner health club. There they will enjoy indoor swimming and other sports, casino tables, digital-camera activities, door prizes and pizza, all donated.

Kathy Flinn is chairwoman of the after-prom-party committee and a languages teacher at Madison. Her son is an 11th-grader at the school.

"We´ve been doing this for about five years," she says. "When the prom was over, the kids wanted it to continue. They had done all this elaborate preparation and everything. So they would either go to someone´s home, which is OK, or worst-case scenario rent hotel rooms. Curfews were extended, and kids were making up stories. There was drinking and I don´t know what else."

Not all schools will be acting in loco parentis to monitor student behavior after the prom. When Arlington´s Washington-Lee High School prom is over, it´s over period. This does not bother Catherine Sauter, a social-studies teacher at W-L and the mother of a 17-year-old student who will attend W-L´s prom.

"To me, having the school sponsor something after the prom it would be as if the school was exempting parents of their responsibility," she says.

What does make her happy, however, is that her son´s prom will be held in a free-standing facility, the Clarendon Ballroom in Arlington.

"As a parent, I appreciate the fact that the site is not connected to a hotel, so when students are there, they are focusing on the prom, not an alternative party in a rented room," she says.

Ms. Moore says parents can help their children have a safe and memorable prom experience by observing the following suggestions:

• Start talking about the prom early "like when the children begin high school" and air your expectations.

• Model your family values.

"For example, if you don´t want your child drinking at the prom, don´t let your kids see you drinking at your parties," Ms. Moore says.

• Sit down with your children and anticipate what kind of situations they might find themselves in and plan how they will respond.

"Say someone is driving them but not able to drive , how will they handle it? Should they have cab fare, or should they have another friend take them?" she says.

• Meet dates ahead of time before prom night so your children know that it matters to you who will be attending the event with them.

"Also, by meeting the parents, the date will be less likely to sway the other student to do something against their values because they have looked the parents in the eye," Ms. Moore says. "It might be a little awkward, but it depends how you set it up. Invite that person along for an activity, not an interrogation by Dad."

She says that if parents have maintained a good relationship with their children, "the prom is not something you will be particularly worried about. It´s a matter of trust. Certainly your kids are going to do some things you don´t want them to do, but that´s part of adolescence. Just let them know the consequences"

Anyway, she points out, two or three months post-prom, many of these students are going to be heading off to college or lives of their own anyway.

"Then you will have no control. You have to let them go, and by and large, they make the right choices," she says.

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